Through the Faith of Others

faithAnd they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. Mark 2:3-4

In Mark 2:1-12 we have the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. This particular passage is filled with images and examples that serve as guide for the evangelizing Church, but how often do we look to see ourselves and our congregations in this story? We are there, trust me.

As the news spread that Jesus was in the house, a large crowd gathered and pushed their way in making it impossible for anyone else to enter. The house was filled to capacity inside and surrounded outside. Just a few verses prior to this text, Peter finds Jesus in a quiet place praying and lets him know “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37). Judging by the crowds surrounding the house, it seems now they have found him, but the question bears asking, why were they looking for him in the first place?

When Jesus began his public ministry, he did so by preaching and teaching with an authority like none other. People longed to hear a word from God and through Jesus they did. Truly, in every sense his was the voice of God. To further demonstrate this authority, Jesus also performed many miracles, signs and wonders. In today’s text, Jesus declares forgiveness then demonstrates he has the power to do so by healing a paralyzed man. No wonder the room was packed.

Imagine your church as crowded as the house where Jesus was in our text. How did it get to be that way? Most likely members of the congregation spread the word throughout the community that God was alive and through the various ministries he was speaking in this place with the power and authority of the gospel. It’s no secret, by sharing faith, others are brought to the house of God in order to see for themselves the goodness and grace of our Lord. Yet, some will doubt and be reluctant to go.

In our text there is no suggestion that the paralytic had asked to see Jesus; his friends brought him to the house. There is no hint that the man who could not walk desired to encounter Christ at all costs; it was his friends who took extraordinary steps to make sure this meeting happened. They cut a hole in the roof, lowered their friend through the rafters and thus brought him to Christ. Jesus saw their faith, not the faith of the paralytic, but it was the paralytic that was healed. This is what happens when, through the faith of others, people are brought to an encounter with the risen Christ.

Is your church filled on Sunday? If not, why? We all know there are people in our communities who do not know the Lord Jesus. We all know there are people who would benefit from an encounter with the risen Lord of life. The paralytic’s friends went to extraordinary lengths that their friend would be forgiven and healed. How far are you willing to go to do the same for your neighbor?

Photo: carolinasnalc.org

Early Morning Prayer

29342-R1-13-13_014In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

There is something to be said about being up early in the morning while it is still dark. As Jesus shows by his example, it is a good time to be away by one’s self and spend time in prayer. Often, as is the case this morning, I am the only one up and the house is dark and quiet. The sun has not yet made its appearance and it is really quite dark. Certainly, this time alone is holy time.

Spending time alone in a deserted place, especially early in the morning is a perfect time for prayer. It is a peaceful time. It is a time before the business of another day has its opportunity to crowd your mind and steal your thoughts away from a loving Father. Early morning prayer is the time when a person in solitude can be with God without interruption.

As I pray early in the morning, I am able to give thanks for those things I find often difficult to recall; those scant moments when grace shrouds me, even if for only fleeting seconds. Early in the morning, all by myself, I am able to speak to God about those ugly thoughts that haunt me during the day, those things am sorry for, those instances for which I am ashamed. As God’s mercy becomes known yet again, soon my prayers are for those whom I know and are facing times of sickness, worry, anger and uncertainty. I pray that God will use me in some way to bring the peace of Christ to their situation. Finally, as this holy time begins to wane and there is a hint of sunlight, my prayer turns to the needs for this new day.

God help me to be the shepherd you have called me to be. Give me strength, confidence and faith enough to meet the needs of those whom you have placed in my charge. Guide me by your Holy Spirit so that through my words and deeds, others will know of your grace, mercy and love. Father, thank you for this new morning, keep watch over me and let the evil one have no power over me. Gracious Father, keep me in your grace, for it is your name I pray for my needs and especially the needs of others. This I pray in the strong name of Jesus Christ, my savior and Lord. Amen.

Rescue from sin

???????????????????????????????And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. Mark 1:27-28

In January of 1982, a jetliner bound for Fort Lauderdale, Florida took off from Washington National Airport. The plane took off in the midst of a winter storm bringing freezing winds and blinding snow. Air Florida’s flight 90 only reached a few hundred feet in altitude before it fell from the air and crashed into the 14th Street Bridge and finally plunged into the icy waters of the Potomac River. In the midst of the chaos, only a handful of passengers and crew members survived and clung to a piece of the tail wreckage. Their rescue was made most difficult because of the freezing conditions and icy waters of the river.

Finally, a police helicopter arrived on the scene. The crew lowered a line to the surviving travelers in the water and began lifting them to safety. With little strength and suffering from hypothermia, one by one they struggled to survive. As the copter returned for another passenger, one man in particular continually passed the life line to the others ahead of him. He insisted on helping others reach the safety of the shoreline. Finally, as the helicopter returned one last time to retrieve him, the man who so unselfishly helped others was nowhere to be found. He was later found among the wreckage of the plane. This man, who died to save others, is the only person listed in the flight 90 disaster to have lost his life due to drowning.

Along the banks of another body of water, Mark tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ mission to rescue God’s people from demons, sickness, sin and death. Jesus came with authority like no other. He commanded unclean spirits to leave those whom they possessed. He cast out many demons and cured people of their disease and sickness. Scripture tells us that all were amazed at what they had witnessed and Jesus’ fame grew rapidly. But fame was not Jesus’ objective; Jesus came so that God’s people may be saved from the powers of evil and have life everlasting. He demonstrated the lengths God would go in order to save his people, even to the point that it would cost Jesus his life.

To this day, Christ calls the people of God to speak with the authority of Holy Scripture. Our Lord calls the Church to proclaim the gift of his grace through the victory won upon the cross. His example of self-giving sacrificial love is reflected by many who put the lives of others ahead of their own. When we strive to meet the needs of our neighbor, showing them the love of God in Christ Jesus, we live into the power and authority of the gospel.

Arland D. Williams Jr. is not a household name; most have never heard of him. Yet there are five people who lived thanks to his unselfish acts in January of 1982. As the wreckage of Flight 90 was sinking into the icy Potomac, Mr. Williams struggled to save others, even to the point that it cost him his life. Following the news of his heroism, the 14th Street Bridge now bears his name and is called the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge.

Following Jesus’ rescue of humanity from sin and death, those who believe he is the Christ also bear the name of our Savior. Drowned to sin and retrieved from the flood of Baptismal waters, we are saved from the consequences of our sin. We are named Christian and called the children of God.

Photo: Seaside at Homer, Alaska

Jesus said “Follow me”

Fishers of MenAnd Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 1:17

As Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he called four fishermen to abandon the only life they had known in order to follow him. Jesus called these four men to follow and he would make them fishers of men. At the time they had no idea what this meant. They had no idea what the journey would entail. Yet they heard the call to follow and left everything behind.

Jesus knew the journey he was on. He knew he was headed for Jerusalem and the cross, a journey that would lead to his death and resurrection. Jesus knew it was God’s intention that he offer his life as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. He also knew that following his departure from earth, the church would be the means used by God to tell the world the good news of salvation.

Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him. Just as it was with the rest of the apostles, our Lord called them to come behind him and learn from him the ways of the Father. In order to build such a church they would need to learn what it meant to cast nets into the world and bring people to faith and understanding of the gospel. They had no idea what the journey would entail, but as it unfolded they became witnesses to the mighty acts of God made manifest in Christ. Once they witnessed it all, Jesus’ miracles, his teaching, his crucifixion and resurrection, they would have the tools necessary to begin fishing for men and building the church.

In Mark’s gospel we read how John preached a message of repentance that the world may prepare to receive the Messiah. Once the world had heard this news, Jesus followed John with a new message; “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus then called the apostles to follow him with the good news of the gospel; “Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ; he is the son of God.” The apostles followed Jesus and built the church. And now the church follows the apostles in their proclamation of the gospel, that all the world might turn to Christ and be saved.

Jesus says, “Follow.” Follow and become like him; follow and learn the ways of God. Follow Christ and become fishers of people in order to bring the message of faith, hope and love into the hearts of people so that all might hear and believe the good news of God’s salvation. Follow his example of righteousness and live into the kingdom of God both now and forever.

We can’t, but God Can

IMG_2049(1)Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

On the shelves of most book stores, one will find an abundance of self-help books. Such books are written so that people facing issues such as uncertainty, doubt or low esteem may find a way to take control of their lives. There are books designed to help us gain control of our finances, our health and even our relationships. If only we read the books and follow the advice of the author we can begin to live a better life. In a world that seemingly shouts “No you can’t!” the goal of self-help seems to be bringing people to the realization of “Yes we can.” The good news for self-help authors is that, the more we try to take control of our lives, the more we realize we can’t control life. And so we buy more books. Like I said, it’s good news for the authors of such books.

There is good news; however, for those who can’t seem to gain control through self-help. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus proclaimed a message of repentance and belief. “Repent and believe the gospel of God!” Self-help begs us to admit to ourselves that we have fallen short and can do better. Repentance and belief, on the other hand, compels us to admit to God we have fallen short and depend upon his grace.

If we understand repentance as being an “I can do better” statement, we are in affect saying we have control of our lives and eventually we will live as God wants us to live. Such an attitude is not fully dependent on God. But if we understand repentance correctly, we will realize it is not a “yes we can” attitude, but one that admits “no we can’t.” We cannot by ourselves overcome the powers of temptation and sin. We cannot walk the path of righteousness on our own. We cannot always do better and we especially cannot save our lives from the power of sin and the grave.

God can! Jesus says, “Repent and believe.” Repentance connected to believing brings us to the fuller understanding that, even as we stumble, God forgives our sin and brings us into eternal life in his kingdom. A god waiting for us to do better is nothing more than one of great patience. The God who freely pours out his mercy and grace is the God who forgives sin and raises people from death to life.

The goal of life is not to take control and do better. It is not simply to overcome uncertainty, fear and doubt and live in prosperity. The goal of earthly life is to repent, turn from sin and live for God through believing the gospel and helping others do the same. No, we can’t overcome doubt and fear on our own. We can’t take control of our lives and fulfill the righteousness God demands. There is no such thing as self-help where salvation is concerned. We can’t…but God can. Repent and believe the gospel of God, for the kingdom of God is at hand.